10 toys that are teaching kids how to code
You're never too young to learn how to code. With so many courses now available and coding taught in schools the world over, children of all ages are understanding what the building blocks of computing are, while learning how to use them to their advantage.
And you don't have to wait until your child is old enough to go to school to teach them a little about coding. There are now a variety of toys available that are not only fun to use but educational, too.
From literal building blocks that come to life when you program them correctly, to robots that will obey your every command if coded properly, these are TechRadar's pick of the cool toys that will help children learn programming, even if they still think Python is just a type of snake.
1. Sphero SPRK+
Sphero may be best known for teaming up with the folks at Star Wars and creating the fantastic remote-controlled BB-8, but it also does a brilliant range of educational toys. Our pick of the bunch is the Sphero SPRK+. Using the connected app and an innovative block-based coding system, there's a tonne of things you can do with the Sphero SPRK+ - including navigating it through a maze, swimming across water (it's waterproof), or even mimicking the solar system.
Find out more: Sphero.com
2. LEGO Mindstorms EV3
Just when you thought LEGO couldn't get more awesome, the building blocks company has added programming and robots into the mix. The Mindstorms EV3 is a robot you build, like any LEGO creation but it also allows for programming. This is thanks to the EV3 programmable brick that comes with Mindstorms. Using the programming tool, you can connect different 'blocks' of commands together, feed them to your robot and make it do a number of weird and wonderful things. It's a little more advanced than some of the toys in this list, but LEGO has a great suite of video tutorials to get you started.
Find out more about LEGO Mindstorm EV3
Lightbot isn't a toy as such, but a really fun app you can download to your smartphone or tablet. The whole point of Lightbot is that it teaches you how to solve problems using programming. Its learning curve is slight, so even if you have no coding knowledge it will help you understand that putting certain commands together will help your 'Lightbot' progress through the levels of the game. The app comes in two flavors: Junior Coding Puzzles, for those aged 4-8 and Programming Puzzles for those who are 9+. The best thing about the app is how it offers up a simple way to understand the basics of what can be complex computer programming.
Find out more at Lightbot.com
4. mBot Robot Kit
Make Block have created a number of robot kits to teach kids how to code and have some fun doing it. These kits range from the small mBot to an ultimate 10-in-1 robot kit. Each kit, according to Make Block, "help you learn the knowledge of mechanical structures, electronic modules and programming skill with ease". These kits are definitely for those kids who already understand a little about coding and want to have a bit of fun learning more about Arduino programming and Python programming.
Find out more at MakeBlock.com
We're not quite sure why but, as you will see from this list, when it comes to programming cubes are used a lot to educate children about the way of the code. Cubelets is a great little idea that involves 'robotic' cubes that can be linked together and programmed to do a number of things. You can buy a variety of cube packs and all you have to do is connect them together and they will create a 'smart' robot system. You can also add them to things like LEGO to make bigger and better robotic creations.
Find out more at ModRobotics.com
6. Project Bloks
Project Bloks is still in its beta stage at the moment but you need to know about it because backing it is one of the biggest companies on the planet - Google. The idea of Project Bloks is that Google wants to make the teaching of coding both tangible and open source. So it has created a platform where developers can create puzzles and tasks that use electronic boards and programmable pucks. Children then connect these 'bloks' together and do with them what they will. The project is still in the 'active research' phase but if it sounds like something that would appeal to you, then you can register your interest and Google will keep you posted about where Project Bloks is going.
Find out more at ProjectBloks.com
7. Dash and Dot
As names go for robots that help you code, you can't get much better than Dash and Dot. On its website Make Wonder, the makers of Dash and Dot, explain that "coding is the modern day superpower". And we couldn't agree more. To gain this superpower, all you have to do it choose either Dash (a fully fledged robot) or Dot (a robot brain) and then download an app and get coding. There's a number of apps you can choose from and each one - through a little bit of coding - will control the robots in a different way.
Find out more at MakeWonder.com
8. Think And Learn Code-A-Pillar
Fisher Price has decided that you are never too young to learn a bit of coding and have created a caterpillar toy that helps 3-6 year olds understand the basics of programming. The way it works is that the child arranges (and rearranges) the caterpillar segments, and depending on how they are arranged the caterpillar will move in different ways.
Find out more at FisherPrice.com
Puzzlets is one of the most innovative coding toys on this list. It uses both a tablet and a physical play tray, combining them both to offer up an interactive play experience. The people behind Puzzlets know that children understand how to use a tablet better than most adults, so instead of pretending this isn't the case it makes the tablet as central part of Puzzlets. Half of the game is played out on a tablet, then the rest is physical - arranging and rearranging the Puzzlets tiles on the play tray. While the coding in the game is slight, it will teach children cause and effect, which is essential in programming.
Find out more at DigitalDreamsLab.com
Cubetto, according to its makers, is a playful programming language you can touch. It consists of a movable Cubetto cube, a board, 16 blocks and a story book. Kids can put the blocks into the board and, depending on the arrangement, they will be able to control the movements of the Cubetto cube. Like many of the toys on this list, Cubetto takes the idea of coding and programming and makes it tangible and fun.
Find out more at KickStarter.com